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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Shaun Casey, special representative for religion and global affairs at the U.S. State Department, spoke at a Boisi Center event on April 9 about the State Department’s efforts to take religion more seriously in its dealings with foreign states. Casey, currently on leave from Wesley Theological Seminary, explained that understanding the religious convictions of others is a high priority for Secretary of State John Kerry (a proud BC alum) and the Obama administration in general. The administration’s efforts are aimed at engaging religious actors and com- munities in order to advance pluralism, human rights and global stability.

Casey described the evolution of the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs and its efforts to further the administration’s goal of engagement. His office advises the Secretary of State on issues connected to religion. It also acts as an entry point for religious leaders around the world who want to work with the State Department. The hard work of religious engagement is largely carried out by U.S. embassies, Casey explained, and his office works with these embassies to help them engage with local religious leaders and connect them to government and academic experts who can help them better understand the situation they face on the ground.

Casey advises diplomats that religion is expressed in a multitude of forms by a vast array of actors, and that it is best to look at how religion is actually practiced, not simply how it is presented in texts. Religion has the potential to inspire great violence but also great good, he said, so an informed and nuanced perspective is crucial.

Through these efforts Casey’s office has engaged with projects ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to climate change, from Iraq to Cuba, and from Muslim engagement to combating global anti-Semitism.